With J Hutcherson — Yesterday, MLSSoccer.com scooped the rest of the League’s media pool with an item on Robert Pires potentially signing with an MLS club. Specifically: “MLSsoccer.com confirmed Tuesday that an MLS club is working on signing the Frenchman in a transaction that could take place during the summer transfer window.
It’s the kind of sentence you see on both sides of the Atlantic, standard practice for a news outlet. Well, sorta. MLSSoccer is the League’s official site, replacing MLSnet and committed to becoming “the best soccer Web site in North America.”
That quote was from Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber in a conversation with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl. Apparently, part of that mission is scooping itself. Hey, fair enough all things considered. After all, it is their show. But there is an impact in becoming your own favored outlet.
Let me get one thing out of the way. US Soccer Players is the official site of the United States National Soccer Team Players Association. This site is fully funded by the members of the Men’s National Team. It operates as a media outlet rather than a typical official site, something the players decided was their way forward in 2002.
Eight years in, and good luck finding examples of us releasing information before it appeared elsewhere, operating in rumors, or trying to compete directly with beat writers covering teams. That’s simply not what we do. Instead, we try to deliver something of value to the fans of the National Team, the players, and American soccer through the stories we tell.
That’s not just a vague statement of purpose. It’s a different scope from an official site that decided a long time ago to try something different. It’s not easy, and we’ve been very careful to keep a separation between the operations of the Players Association as a union and the website as a content-centered outlet.
MLS has spent years in a similar situation. They use freelancer writers to produce original content, run a disclaimer at the bottom about distinct opinions, but also stay away from the kind of stories that would draw them into direct competition with newspapers and independent websites. Or at least they did.
No doubt times change, but MLS seems to be set on a course that looks an awful lot like a well-funded challenge to an embattled industry.
Any member of the MLS media pool should remember Commissioner Garber speaking about the problems facing sports journalism in general, and print outlets in particular. At the time, it was excusable that talk of working toward a solution was taken to mean better support of journalists by the League and its clubs. I doubt that anyone was thinking the League’s answer would be competing directly with every other outlet trying to cover MLS. Nobody should have thought it meant the League’s official site covering soccer all over the World.
From an insider perspective, covering MLS has never been easy. Those of us that can pull from a broader set of experiences dealing with other clubs in other leagues know that. I’m not going to get into specifics or old stories, but I think most writers would privately agree that MLS media relations makes things harder than necessary.
Simply put, they’re at it again.
Instead of working with the media to set guidelines in a competitive industry, MLS pushed ahead. With that decision, they’ve created a substantial trust issue for any writer trying to do his or her job. Why call the League for comment when they’re competing for the same traffic?
What the League is actively doing is working on making themselves everybody’s direct competitor. That’s the only real takeaway from that phrase about being the best. Being able to scoop other outlets alongside providing media relations? That’s a tricky choice and one that could end up working against what was once upon a time the goal. The best possible coverage nationally and in the local markets. There’s a reason that normally means supporting the media rather than taking their place.
This is the big picture problem that a rushed website launch has overshadowed. It’s not so much how MLS is presenting their site, but what they’re presenting.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.